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March 30, 2017
Why You Shouldn’t Be Intimidated by Squid Ink

I first fell in love with squid ink several moons ago over a plate of homemade pasta in a thick, inky-black sauce in Marzamemi, a picturesque fishing village on the southeast tip of Sicily. Its silky, salty flavor made an indelible impression; it’s one of those food memories that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

Just the thought of where squid ink comes from may seem a bit bizarre to the uninitiated. As its name implies, squid ink comes from the ink-filled sac that squid use as a protective mechanism to defend against enemies. How anyone ever figured out that squid ink is edible is a mystery to me, but I’m glad to be the beneficiary of that culinary discovery. The smooth liquid adds a distinct brininess to a dish—similar to the salinity of oysters and sea urchin, but with a flavor that is completely its own. It makes a dish taste like the ocean in a pleasant way—not like you accidentally swallowed a mouthful of sea water.

Where does one find squid ink? If you have access to extremely fresh whole squid, you can harvest the ink yourself from the tiny ink-filled sac between its gills. If you’re thinking, “Nope, not going to happen,” I have good news. You can often find jars of squid ink (or, more commonly, cuttlefish ink, which makes a fine substitution) or individual packets at your local fish market and at some specialty food stores.

Squid ink is versatile and can be used to color and flavor sauces, fresh pasta, and, interestingly enough, breads and crackers. In the Spanish dish chipirones en su tinta (squid in its ink), baby squid are fried and served in an inky broth. One of my favorite preparations is a Spanish rice dish of Catalan and Valencian origin known as arroz negro (squid with rice cooked in squid ink).

Arroz negro is prepared similarly to paella—cooked in a large shallow pan over an open flame until the rice absorbs all of the inky-colored liquid. Add a few lightly grilled whole shrimp, and serve with a swirl of bright yellow, garlicky saffron aioli for a dramatic presentation.

While I consider arroz negro to be a special-occasion dish (perhaps because it evokes fond memories of backpacking through Spain), it is easy to prepare for everyday cooking. Fair warning: Squid ink is messy and will stain anything and everything it comes in contact with (including your teeth)—but don’t worry, it’s only temporary.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound squid, cleaned
  • salt
  • 4 cups hot fish or shrimp stock
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 large tomato, grated on a box grater, skins discarded
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
  • 1 cup Spanish Calasparra rice
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • 2-3 tablespoons squid or cuttlefish ink
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
  • 4 whole large shrimp, with heads on
  • 4 whole large shrimp, with heads on
  • lemon wedges for serving
  • For the Garlicky Saffron Aioli
  • 1 pinch saffron threads
  • 1 teaspoon hot water
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, smashed to a paste
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • 1 pinch of hot smoked Spanish paprika

Arroz negro is a traditional Spanish dish made with squid, a short-grained Spanish rice known as Calasparra, and stained a striking black color with the addition of squid ink. In addition to coloring the rice, squid ink adds salinity and umami to the dish with a deep, smooth unctuousness. It makes for an impressive, festive presentation, especially with a few whole shrimp scattered on top and served with a garlicky saffron aioli to mix in with the rice.

  1. Slice the body of the squid into thin rings. Slice the tentacles in half. Season with salt.
  2. Bring the fish or shrimp stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce the heat to low and maintain a simmer.
  3. Heat a 13-inch (paella) pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the squid and sauté for 30 seconds. Remove the squid and set aside. Add the rest of the oil to the pan. Add the onion and green pepper, and sauté until soft and tender, about 15 minutes, reducing the heat if the onion starts to burn. Add the tomato and garlic, and sauté another 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
  4. Add the rice to the pan and cook, stirring frequently for 1 minute. Add the wine and simmer another minute. Add the hot stock and the squid ink, and stir to combine. Add the chopped parsley. Simmer over medium heat (do not stir the rice at this point), about 10 to 12 minutes. Taste the rice. It should be tender at this point and most of the liquid should be absorbed. Scatter the reserved squid over the top and cook another 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cover, and let rest about 5 minutes.
  5. Use kitchen shears to cut along the length of the back of each shrimp, just deep enough to expose the vein. Remove the vein. Toss the shrimp with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a grill, grill pan, or sauté pan, and cook shrimp, turning occasionally, until shells are bright red and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  6. Use kitchen shears to cut along the length of the back of each shrimp, just deep enough to expose the vein. Remove the vein. Toss the shrimp with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Heat a grill, grill pan, or sauté pan, and cook shrimp, turning occasionally, until shells are bright red and meat is cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  7. Serve the rice warm with lemon wedges, a garlicky saffron aioli to swirl into the rice, and a few cooked whole shrimp scattered on top.

For the Garlicky Saffron Aioli

  1. In a small bowl, crumble the saffron into the water. Let steep for 10 minutes.
  2. Whisk the egg yolk with the garlic and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice. Gradually add the olive oil, drop by drop, whisking all the time. Once it thickens, you can begin to add the oil more quickly, continuously whisking until all the oil has been added.
  3. Stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and the saffron water and season the aioli with salt and a pinch of smoked paprika.

Linda Schneider

Linda Schneider is a home cook who is obsessed with good food and all things local. Follow her adventures at Wild Greens and Sardines.